Simply Sarah: Running My First 5K

One month ago, amidst my busy but repetitive schedule, I felt bored. Bored with school, bored with my exercise and bored with my overall routine. I sat in bed and brainstormed what I could possibly do to crawl out of this funk.

By Sarah Roberts

Believe me when I say I’m not a runner — just the thought of it makes me cringe. But what did I choose to do? Yep, I ran. I made a goal to complete Susan G. Komen’s Race for the Cure without stopping to walk. Some of my greatest moments came from pushing myself outside of my comfort zone. So what was stopping me? I wanted to devote one month of my life to practicing something I knew I could do if I put my mind to it.

After 28 days of pain, practice and pushing myself, I didn’t just cross that finish line — I sprinted under those white and pink balloons with a grin the size of North Dakota. After 28 days, I finally felt the satisfaction of pursuing a goal start to finish. After 28 days, this is what I learned about running a 5K, and want to pass onto you.

Pace Yourself

This is the most important rule to follow when running your first race. You know those friends who say, “What, a 5K? That’s only, like, 3 miles. You can do that! It’s all mentality!” Though they only intend to encourage you, I advise you not to listen to them. If you — like me — have very little to no experience running, you must build unique endurance. Fitness should always start light and build with practice. Try browsing the internet for 5K beginner plans — they help tremendously! These will aid you in effectively pacing yourself and keep you from burning out too early. Burning out = hating running even more = not following through.

Know your Route

Some consider running a journey, not a destination. Unfortunately, it’s tough to find the motivation to run endlessly. What worked best for me was knowing where my route took me and how far it was. Mobile apps like Map My Run and Runkeeper allow you to either map a unique path or choose a pre-mapped route. By knowing the checkpoints for each run (for instance I hit Juiceland at 0.75 miles from home each time), I could make a mental note of how much my speed was improving.

Eat Clean and Train (kind of) Mean

During training, your meals and additional exercise should aid you in running light and long. I found that moderately carb cycling my daily meals greatly benefitted my performance. For example, if I ate toast and fruit for breakfast (both high in carbohydrates), my mid-day snack would be nuts (high in fat). I repeated this cycle for lunch, my second snack of the day and dinner (making sure to add protein such as lean meat, fish and whey powder). Eating this way helped eliminate feeling heavy and sluggish when it was time for a run.

Your training period has you running about three times a week, and I highly encourage you to perform another type of exercise one or two other days a week. This exercise should increase your muscle endurance, so think fast paced and not extremely heavy. It could be walking, biking, swimming or short high-intensity interval training sessions. I constructed a simple lower body HIIT session that only requires one set of dumbbells, a chair and a mat:

34-minute lower body HIIT

  • 5 minute warm-up on treadmill or fast walking. If on treadmill, set to medium incline and 3.5 speed.
  • Complete each circuit for 5 minutes with no rest between each move. Rest 1 minute between each circuit. Repeat circuit 1 and circuit 2 for a total of 24 minutes including rest time.
    • 1st circuit
      • 10 jump squats, 40 Russian twists with weight (no more than 15 pound dumbbell), 15 plie squats with dumbbell held in goblet position, 15 knee crunches with 10 lb dumbbell between feet seated on flat bench (or chair).
    • 2nd circuit
      • 20 lunges with weight (I use 10-15 lb dumbbells), 20 bicycle crunches, 10 reverse squats, 30 second plank.
    • Cool down with 5 minutes of static leg stretches (Runtastic Fitness has some good ones here).

Plan your Training

Simple and to the point: mark your runs and additional exercises in a planner. You’ll know which days you need to make time for exercise and which days you can rest. Cross them out once you’ve finished them to stay organized.

Trust the Race Day Adrenaline

The day of the race I muttered to my friend, “I know myself, I know I’m going to have to break and walk.” I completely doubted myself based on my training (during training you can take walking breaks if needed). But something about the race day was different. The adrenaline —from knowing that I trained so hard for this, put my mind to it and did the absolute best I could — kicked in. My advice: plug your headphones in, soak up the route scenery and remember the goal you set 28 days ago.

Namaste, Sarah 

Born and raised in Austin, Sarah is a health nut with a passion for nutrition and fitness. In addition to being a journalism student at UT, she is the world’s biggest dog lover, mediocre smoothie-maker and "Kill Bill" enthusiast. You can catch her at the gym, cuddling her dog Vinny or chugging cold-brew before class. When not doing any of the above, Sarah is sharing her experiences with food and exercise through her health column at ORANGE. Click here to see her other articles.